- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

President Obama used the backdrop of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday to renew calls for the U.S. to reduce its stockpile of nuclear warheads, but the modest disarmament push underscores just how much has changed for a man who five years ago drew 200,000 people for a similar speech in heart of the German capital.

In that first grand address as candidate Obama, he also called for the U.S. and Russia to cut nuclear arsenals and offered the lofty goal of “a world without nuclear weapons.”

Analysts say he has made progress toward that aim, but both nations have a long way to go just to meet existing obligations and it is difficult to know for sure whether Moscow remains committed to its end of the bargain.

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On Wednesday, in front of a much smaller, invitation-only crowd of about 6,000 Berliners, Mr. Obama — visibly sweating and speaking from behind the protection of bulletproof glass — again said he will pursue “the security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but conceded that his “dream” is a long way off.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” said Mr. Obama, wrapping up a European trip that included the Group of Eight summit this week in Northern Ireland. “We have more work to do. So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.”

U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he arrives for a speech at Brandenburg Gate where he is to deliver a speech in Berlin Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Obama is on a two-day official visit to the German capital. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he arrives for a speech at ... more >

Mr. Obama’s proposal would go beyond the reductions in nuclear arsenals outlined in existing agreements with Russia. If the current deals are fulfilled over the next decade and the U.S. meets Mr. Obama’s new goal, that would leave the U.S. with about 1,000 deployed nuclear warheads.

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He stressed that Russia must follow suit, but it’s unclear whether President Vladimir Putin shares Mr. Obama’s passion on the subject.

Russia reacts

Just before Mr. Obama’s Berlin speech, Mr. Putin said that Moscow “cannot allow the balance of the system of strategic deterrence to be disturbed or the effectiveness of our nuclear force to be decreased,” according to the BBC.

One of Mr. Putin’s key foreign policy advisers, Yury Ushakov, later said nuclear negotiations should no longer include only the U.S. and its former Cold War superpower rival.

“The situation now is not like in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “We need to look more broadly … and increase the circle of participants in possible contacts on this matter.”

Analysts say it was easier in 2008 for Mr. Obama to offer the ambitious — and perhaps unrealistic — goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. At the time, it was routine for him to bash the foreign policy of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, and boast of how he would do better.

During more than four years of governing, he has been responsible for leading nuclear negotiations with Russia.

“Part of the problem he had in Berlin is that four years ago he had to compete with the Bush administration’s nuclear policy. This time, he had to compete with himself,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists and an authority on nuclear weapons and policy.

In Washington, it took little time for Republicans on Capitol Hill to cast Mr. Obama’s proposal as another example of a weakening of American defenses.

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